Summer's Signature Cocktail


Photo by cogdogblog/Flickr CC

We've been lucky here in the nation's capital. Summer has been mild so far, but the infernal mugginess that leads many to postulate that D.C. was once a swamp soon awaits us. Lugging my laptop to the local coffee shop will become an enormous chore more fitting an athlete. Come to think of it, coffee seems like it may be ill advised. Perhaps, it's time to start drinking actual water and divert my primary water intake from java, Diet Coke and beer?

Under these conditions, my mind turns to one thing, and one thing alone: the only beverage capable of relieving the unbearable heat, the Rickey. In my mind, the Rickey is to summer what Superglue is to adhesives, or Kleenex is to tissues. They're synonymous. To go a summer without the Rickey would be to pop all of the inflatable swimming pools of my youth--I need it to mark the occasion of summer.

I hereby declare July Rickey Month and the Rickey the official-unofficial cocktail of Washington, D.C.

The Rickey is a category of mixed drinks made from a base spirit, half of a lime squeezed and dropped in the glass, and topped with carbonated water. Little or no sugar is added to the Rickey. Originally made with Bourbon whiskey, the Rickey was invented in Washington, D.C. around 1883 at Shoomaker's bar by bartender George A. Williamson, purportedly in collaboration with Democratic lobbyist Colonel Joe Rickey. It became a worldwide sensation when mixed with gin.

Oh, how far this summertime sipper has come! It was once so popular that in a 1907 Los Angeles Herald article titled, "Limes Are On Time," the writer calls two million limes the raw materials for Gin Rickeys. Yet Prohibition and fashion conspired against the District's signature cocktail. Thankfully it's making a resurgence, and none to soon. I could use a drink.

Along with the D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild, of which I am a member, I hereby declare July Rickey Month and the Rickey the official-unofficial cocktail of Washington, D.C. If you live in the D.C.-metropolitan area and are over 21 years of age you must have one before the month is over. (I will come to your door and ask you personally when and where you had it.)

To make it easier on you, and save me from wagging a bar spoon in your face, the D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild has started an annual contest every July in homage to the Rickey, whereby city bartenders re-imagine the classic cooler. So you can find Rickeys all throughout the city of Washington, D.C. Competing bartenders use everything from corn water to tamarind soda in an attempt to keep the original intent while adding their own creative touch. See here for more information.

I'm going to stick to my recipe for now, but if it gets any hotter I'll look forward to tasting the winning results.

The Rickey

• 2 oz. Old Tom Gin
    • Half of a lime
    • Apollinaris Water

Squeeze lime and drop in glass. Add ice to goblet or tall glass. Use spoon in glass. Pour gin over ice and top with soda. Stir and serve.